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H A R VA R D L A W S C H O O L P ROGRAM ON THE L EGAL P ROFESSION Š law.harvard.edu/programs/plp Š T HE J APANESE L EGAL P ROFESSION © 2011 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Disclaimer These reports reflect research done by students at HLS in the Spring of 2011, and are based on secondary sources, as noted in each report. While we believe the information reflected in the re‐
ports to be true, the information has not been independently verified, and the reports are not meant to be complete with respect to any particular topic, and particularly as regards the legal system in its entirety, or in political or constitutional context. Readers should also recognize that terminology may vary from country to country, which may make naïve comparisons misleading. For example, the concept of a “lawyer” varies from country to country, and data on “lawyers” may include practicing and non‐practicing attorneys. No one should rely on the information con‐
tained in the reports for any purpose. Japan
Legal Education
Structure of legal education The Japanese legal education system has been in a state
of flux during the past decade.
Before March 2004, prospective lawyers typically
completed a four-year LL.B. degree.i However, no degree
was required to sit for the Bar Exam.ii After passing the
very difficult Bar Exam (2-3% passage rateiii), students
were required to participate in a one-and-a-half-year
apprenticeship program at the Legal Training and
Research Institute of the Supreme Court.iv
In April 2004, the “law school system” was introduced.
Qualification for legal practice now requires a graduate
J.D. course that lasts two years (for students who have
already completed an LL.B.) or three years (for those
with non-law undergraduate degrees).v Forty to 50
percent of law school graduates pass the new bar exam
(passage numbers are capped by a quota) and participate
in a one-year apprenticeship program at the Legal
Training and Research Institute of the Supreme Court.vi
Typical age of starting
Status hierarchy of law
As of 2011, the system will change again to allow nonlaw-degree holders to once again sit for the bar exam,
after first having passed a separate initial examination.vii
Before the introduction of law school system lawyers
were typically admitted to the bar between the ages of
23-27. (Begin the four year LL.B. course at 18, graduate
at 22, pass the bar exam in the third or fourth year of
undergraduate or one to three years after graduation,
attend apprenticeship program, and then be admitted to
the bar.) Average starting ages varied quite a bit because
applicants often had to take the bar exam several times.
Under the new law school system, most applicants are
admitted between the ages of 26-29. (Begin the four-year
LL.B. course at 18, graduate at 22, begin the two-year
J.D. course at 22, graduate at 24, pass the new bar exam
after graduation, attend one-year apprenticeship program,
and then be admitted to the bar.) After 2011, when nondegree-holders will again be allowed to sit for the bar
exam, typical ages of starting lawyers may begin to vary
There are 74 law schools in Japan that offer the J.D.
National universities such as University of Tokyo, Kyoto
University and Hitotsubashi University, and private
universities such as Keio University, Chuo University
and Waseda University are regarded as top-tier law
Rough size of top law
How professional (vs.
academic) is the law
Professional regulation:
basic licensing
Length of study for
Rankings systems will be instituted in the future, with bar
passage rates being one criterion.x
Tokyo: 300 students, Kyoto 200 students, Hitotsubashi:
100 students, Keio: 260 students, Chuo: 300 students,
and Waseda: 300 students. The class size in other schools
ranges from 30-200 students.
Traditionally, law professors have no practice experience
(including clerkships at courts), nor did they pass the bar
exam and obtain a license to practice.xi Recently, along
with the introduction of the new law school system, many
law schools have started to hire law practitioners, such as
lawyers from big law firms or judges, as professors or
associate professors.xii
Historically, legal education was strictly lecture-based
and theoretical;xiii however, students received practical
education during their apprenticeship at the Legal
Training and Research Institute. The new law schools
offer discussion-based seminar classes as well as clinics,
externships, and moot courts.xiv This “American-style”
model has been criticized as ineffective in civil law
Pursuant to the Lawyers Act, those who pass the Bar
Exam and participate in the apprenticeship program are
eligible to join the Bar Association and become licensed.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations and Bar
Associations in each prefecture perform oversight
functions and lay down standards of professional
Under the old system, students typically studied for the
bar exam for several years.xvi “Cram schools” were
common and often took priority over university classes
for many students.xvii Passage on the fifth time was quite
common, with only 0.1% of first-time test-takers passing.
Under the new law school system applicants study for
about one year, devoting the final month before the exam
to full-time study. Applicants are now limited to taking
the exam only three times and within five years of
graduation.xviii Due to quotas governing maximum bar
Lawyers per population
and lawyers per working
Size of law firms
Share of attorneys at top
Compensation structure
Law firm retirement age
Law firm governance
Type of legal system
Punitive damages in civil
Juries in civil cases
Rules on contingent fee
Rules on attorney’s fees
and other costs in litigation
passage numbers, approximately half of law school
graduates will never be admitted to practice. Cram
schools are expected to remain popular, as law schools do
not teach the test-taking techniques required for the Bar
Lawyers from any jurisdiction who pass the bar exam
may qualify to practice in Japan.xx
There is approximately one lawyerxxi for every 4419
people, and one lawyer for every 2823 working
Law Firms
Over 60% of all law offices are solo practitioners,
however urban areas are seeing an increase in the number
of joint offices involving several attorneys.xxiii There are
seven firms in Japan with over 100 attorneys.xxiv
There were 28,789 attorneys in Japan as of 2010.xxv The
top five firms have a total of 1622 attorneys.xxvi Thus,
approximately 6% of attorneys work at one of the top
five firms.
Compensation may be lockstep, performance based, or a
combination of the two. First-year attorneys make under
$10 mil. yen ($124,359) while those with up to three
years of experience generally make under $15 mil. yen
($186,513). Experienced attorneys can make up to $30
mil. yen per year ($373,039).xxvii
There is no set retirement age in Japan as a whole;
however, most companies do set a retirement age, usually
between 60-65.
Law offices are mainly managed by individual
Law/Legal procedure
Japan has a civil law system.xxix
There are no punitive damages in civil cases.xxx
There are no juries in civil cases. A citizen judge system,
which is similar to the Anglo-American jury system, was
introduced in May 2009, but only for certain criminal
Contingent fee litigation is permitted in Japan.xxxii
There is no binding regulation relating to attorney’s fees
except for a Bar Association rule setting out information
and disclosure requirements.xxxiii
In litigation, only fees payable to courts and
miscellaneous expenses are usually borne by the losing
party. Attorney’s fees are not compensated.
Under Civil Procedure Code, a party may use a document
Rules on discovery
submission order to compel the adverse party to submit
specific document. Judges closely oversee the discovery
There is no class action system.xxxiv
Rules on class actions
Prevalence and prominence Shareholder suits are quite prominent, to the extent that
shareholders’ suits are broadcast on TV and
of “plaintiff’s bar” and
advertisements in buses and trains publicize how to bring
class actions brought on
a suit.xxxv
behalf of shareholders or
consumers against large
Hisashi Aizawa, Japanese Legal Education in Transition, 24 WIS. INT’L L.J. (2006).
Id. at 144.
Mark Reutter, Japanese legal education system undergoing radical transformation (2003), University of
Illinois News Bureau, http://news.illinois.edu/news/03/1113japanlaw.html.
Aizawa, supra note 1 at 146.
Id. at 137-138.
Id. at 148-149.
Japanese Federation of Bar Associations. http://www.nichibenren.or.jp/en/about/attorney_system.html
Aizawa, supra note 1 at 135-136.
Information from interviews with Japanese LLMs.
Takahiro Saito, The Tragedy of Japanese Legal Education: Japanese “American” Law Schools, 24 WIS.
INT’L L.J. 197 (2006).
Aizawa, supra note 1 at 141-142.
Id. at 139-140.
Id. at 141.
Saito, supra note 10 at 199-200.
Ramseyer, Mark. Japanese Law: An Economic Approach, at 11.
Aizawa, supra note 1 at 145-146.
Id. at 148.
Saito, supra note 10 at 202.
The Law Society of England and Wales. How to practise in Japan (2007),
Japan Today. http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/number-of-lawyers-in-japan-to-top30000-soon
The Statistics Bureau and the Director-General for Policy Planning of Japan.
Japanese Bar Federation, supra note 7.
Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, White Paper on Attorneys (2010),
Id. at 1.
Id. at 18
Id. at 35.
Id. at 25.
The Law Society of England and Wales, supra note 20.
General Act Related to the Application of Laws § 22(2) (2006).
Japanese Federation of Bar Associations. Justice System Reforms,
Herbert M. Kritzer, Risks, Reputations, and Rewards: Contingency Fee Legal Practice in the United
States (2004), 258-259.
Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, Rules Concerning Attorney’s Fees,
Ikuo Sugawara, The current situation of class action in Japan (2008),
Carol A.N. Zacharias, International Developments in Executive Liability (2010),